Thursday, July 31, 2008

Chapter 5


The study suggested that rapid social changes breed an environment conducive for the rise and growth of religious fundamentalism. An investigation into reasons that account for the rise of religious fundamentalism was undertaken against the background of religion's function in society. Furthermore, the study sought to find what the appeal of the phenomenon under consideration is and how it gains influence in society. Because religious fundamentalism manifests in many religions, a choice was made to limit focus to two religions, namely; Christianity and Islam. The choice of these two lies in their being the world's foremost religions and the fact that both seek to expand their numeric base.

For the purpose of arriving at an understanding of the contribution which rapid social changes make in the rise and growth of religious fundamentalism, a literature study relevant to the subject under consideration was conducted. Functionalist theory provided a perspective from which the role of religion in a traditional and modern society could be understood. The value of functionalist perspective in this study, was in providing an understanding of why religious fundamentalism arose.

With all the above in mind, what answer can be given to the question: why do rapid changes in society tend to become breeding ground for religious fundamentalism? The answer is that rapid social changes marginalize conceptions of the world, of God, of religious people themselves, their rituals and other practices perceived to be at the core of their religio-cultural identities. This marginalization brings about uncertainty in many. Religious fundamentalism rises as a rebellion against forces of marginalization extant in the modern world. By absolutizing its views and practices, it provides a sense of certainty in an uncertain world as well as rejects the values and aims of modern society.

To the question: what is the appeal of religious fundamentalism, and to whom? The answer that I present is that religious fundamentalism holds an appeal to those with a grievance against modernization and related secularization, those who for whatever reason think and feel deprived either psychologically, socio- economically, politically or in all these facets and blame the modern society and its processes for it. The following may explain the appeal of both Christian and Islamic fundamentalism:

i. The defiance against marginalization.

ii. The provision of an absolute reference point for all of life in the form of a literally appropriated, absolutely correct sacred text.

Iii. The confidence of belonging to the special people of God who enjoy His approval and blessing consequent to their obedience to his precepts in the sacred text.

iv. The surety of group's political ascendance with attendant entrenchment of its religious brand and values in society.

The last question asks: how does religious fundamentalism gain influence over society? In answering this question, I have discussed some of the means available to both Christian and Islamic fundamentalism. However, the list is not exhaustive. Under Christian fundamentalism, I have discussed alternative organisations, which act as instruments of socialization into Christian fundamentalist values and practice; the media, which is widely employed to advance fundamentalist view of everything as well as the attractive so called prosperity gospel; and financial strength, which is raised from members and sympathizers. The fact that Christian fundamentalism focuses mostly on the middle class means that it can and does generate substantial amounts of money. But it also attracts the poor who hope for a better life. Some politicians have been known to court Christian fundamentalism due to its seemingly growing influence.

Under Islamic fundamentalism, I have discussed domination of state apparatus, which is done by some fundamentalist group gaining power and through calculated control and allocation of state resources influence the populace towards its form of religion; oil wealth, this has been used by some fundamentalist states to fund fundamentalist causes not only within their own territory but in other countries and to coerce other states into assenting to the formers fundamentalist views and agenda as condition for financial aid; and provision of religious, educational, health and welfare facilities. These socially responsive acts are carried out by Islamic fundamentalists with oil money from certain fundamentalist governments. The reward is great popularity among the destitute masses.

I have excluded the media among the means used by Islamic fundamentalists. However this does not mean they do not use it. It is only that their use of media is overshadowed by the extend Christian fundamentalists use media. Also most Islamic fundamentalists operate in general conditions of repression unless they are in Islamist countries such as Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, etc. On the other hand Christian fundamentalists generally operate within environments which allow them freedom of expression either because the state is inclined towards Christian fundamentalism or because the country is a democracy which respects the right to expression.

To conclude, modernity precludes existence of religious states and strong religious lobby groups exercising influence on the state. It is on the basis of this thinking that religious fundamentalism manifesting itself in religious states and strong religious lobby groups is an aberration. Religion is supposed to be a docile player keeping to the bounds set by secularizing forces. However, increasing interest and participation in fundamentalist religion challenges modern secular norms. In fact, modern secular society does not seem normative anymore. But, religious fundamentalist forces have not constituted themselves as a global order despite being politically ascendant in some countries. What are the chances of such a religious fundamentalist global order arising?

I think that there is a minimal chance for a religious fundamentalist global order. The mutual absolutism, exclusivism, literalist commitment to different sacred stories/texts and enthusiasm to convert others militate against such a possibility. These things also threaten possible outbreaks of inter religious tensions and sometimes violence in any nation in which fundamentalist groups are active. Therefore, whilst religious fundamentalism may provide its adherents with a sense of security, purpose, importance and certainty, it may prove difficult to guarantee these things on a long term basis. For the above statement to be false, there would need to be a global order constituted by one form of religious fundamentalism, exercising absolute control on institutions and persons. Finally, religious fundamentalism, a byproduct of rapid social changes, now threatens more instability to the global society which is itself in transition. In the interest of the emerging world and a safer future, religious fundamentalism does need to be neutralized. This may be done by drawing closer to fundamentalists everywhere and ultimately confronting them with the inherent relativity of their claims when seen against like groups.



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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Theology and the Spirit in some Pentecostal circles

Some time last year I was let in on what some people in our church thought about me. It was shocking to find that there was a fear that I could be a false prophet about whom the bible. It is this that I want to reflect on. My reflections on the matter are informed by memories of having been labelled as prayerless, cornered to credit the spiritual powers manifesting through me to demons. Later at seminary, I got lambasted for embracing rigorous theologising on Christian praxis. Again, one of my lecturers warned the class not to go deep with theology lest we lose the Spirit. This led to some seminarians labelling those perceived to have taken well to theology to be without the Spirit.

A situation of heated debates resulted from the above. All I seemed to hear was an equation of theological naivity to conduciveness for Spirit's indwelling and work. I could not accept limits on theological inquiry in the quest to retain the Spirit as right. I felt that knowledge comes because we ask and ask sincerely, unashamedly and deeply, seeking to understand; that what one claims to know or understand is soon challenged by new and different situations such that the 'knower' is sent to the drawing board repeatedly.

Today's world is changing fast. The questions we ask today might be irrelevant tomorrow. The answers which seem satisfactory today may turn totally unconvincing tomorrow. The nature and process of knowing itself is being thrown into question as the world undergoes these pervasive changes. So how can one not pursue understanding and sharpness in theological matters? This does not mean that I have attained the above, but that I press on towards attainment of understanding. My persistent questioning has brought me funny labels. I told a friend that the remaining label is being called the devil.
I think it is sad that some people among Pentecostals can be so anti-theology. It is probably the same attitude that has gotten us into so much confusion. I find it scandalous that some Pentecostals think that they can lead and pastor God's people without any intellectual preparation; that because they have the anointing of the Spirit, they need not be taught by 'men'; that the same people would rebel and lead others into rebellion should they be challenged on their assumptions.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

DIVINE HEALING: Beware the popular teaching

 The question of healing today is one that should concern us greatly. Firstly, the widening gap between the rich and poor of the world impacts on provision of health services to the multitudes of needy people. Secondly, the majority of the poor people of the world are found in the third world which also happens to be where Christianity is growing in leaps and bounds. The type of Christianity that is on the rise across the world is the Pentecostal - Charismatic one. One of the major characteristics of this form of Christianity is its belief in the availability and practice of divine healing today. As a Pentecostal, I too maintain the availability and practice of divine healing. But I have a serious concern which I think should be shared broadly. Popular teaching on divine healing seems Scripturally fraudulent and dangerous to many desperate people in Pentecostal - Charismatic churches and those without. This is what concerns me greatly. I shall go about arguing this point under the following headings:
  1. The fraudulance of popular teaching on divine healing
I hope to submit part 2 on the subject later. Its aim would be to propose a way of talking about the subject of divine healing in a manner that assists the sick to maintain faith in God regardless of whether healing manifests or not.
The fraudulance of popular teaching on divine healing
In order to establish whether popular teaching on divine healing is indeed Scripturally fraudulent or not, one needs to remember most sermons by itinerant tent evangelists concerning healing as well as beliefs held by most Pentecostal - Charismatic folks regarding healing. I have been raised in the circles of Pentecostals to believe that 'God heals.' Pentecostal meetings feature prayer for the sick. And every form of physical malady is prayed for. Everytime prayer is offered for physical sickness, it is underlined by a belief that 'God heals'. Listening to the accompanying teaching, one hears it proclaimed that all manner of sicknesses stand no chance in the presence of God and the application of his power. In some circles, it is taught that divine healing is for all believers for all time secured by Christ through his death. Consequently, a 'child of God' should live in health - for that is the sign of God's blessing. All these give a glimpse of the teaching around the subject. Now, the question that we want to ask is whether this teaching is Scriptural or not.
The scripturality of a teaching or belief depends on such a teaching being warranted in the Bible. I have argued that the teaching that 'God heals today' has warrants in the Bible, in history and contemporary experience (see God still heals today). But the problem that that particular study was dealing with, was a doubt if not a negation of God's involvement in today's healing activity. Now in this piece, where the concern is with fraudulence of popular teachings regarding divine healing, the question is: what is fraudulent about this so called popular teaching? I think that the fraudulence of popular teaching lies in its pretence that sickness and faith are opposites which can never be found together, that when a believer is sick, it points to either slackness in faith or God's disfavour, that religious repentance and faith expressed through confessions of the 'Word' and 'giving to God' are panacea for all ills of the body a believer can come across. That such a belief is fraudulent is borne firstly by Scriptural record and second by experience. The next section presents some evidence from the Bible against which the above stated belief should be seen.